Aspiring Tamil Nadu

Doing your first school workshop is a scary business, as back in the UK taking workshops into schools is tricky, surrounded by red tape, and the children are sometimes difficult to engage. We expected our classes to be so much harder than they actually were but after an informal meeting with the headmasters we were in. We prepared skits, games, and talks to give the children, recording the session with worksheets about their dream jobs.

Our first workshop was in Vallipattu village, and we went in unprepared of the differences to our schools back home. The classrooms were poorly ventilated concrete blocks without seats or tables. Classic chalk boards sat at the front of the class and examinations were being held outside on the dirt. The students sat in the blazing sun in rows about three feet apart (I remember when our class was complaining about the week long delay in getting our interactive whiteboard fixed).

This was a government school and the headmaster made no attempt to deny that the students sometimes struggled. He expressed that livelihoods was no great decision to the children but a means of survival, and therefore expected a purely economic outcome. Despite the difficulties faced this was a proud man of a good school with excellent results in traditional subjects.

But the students weren’t particularly money hungry. The majority of girls wanted to be teachers whilst the boys wanted to be in the army. When asked why they wanted their dream jobs the majority of both genders mentioned their community. Teachers wanted to help poorer students into school, doctors wanted to provide free local healthcare, politicians wanted to improve access to safe water, and police officers wanted to protect their community.

It was absolutely survival on the minds of these children, but not their survival, the survival of the people they grew up with.

To improve our second workshop we gave more information about career paths and entry requirements. Looking at the faces of Alangayam’s School for Girls 9th standard all you could see was intent focus, each so eager to chart their futures.

There is no career guidance in the school curriculum here and many students thought that their futures were influenced most by their parents. Perhaps with more voluntary classes on careers we can break the cycle of social class reproduction and children can learn how to make their dreams a reality.

 

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Blackouts, Take Outs, and Cockroaches

Our placement house is located in Alangayam, Tamil Nadu, and this whole South Indian state suffers from rolling blackouts whenever there is an energy deficit. The issue is the worst in rural areas of the state, being of ‘low priority,’ and at the house we have around three power cuts each day. As you can see in the attached video we don’t cope, we sing.

At first it was all a big shock and we would stare up at the still fans helplessly. Cuts in Chennai were rare and there seemed way too many more in Vellore District. Going out for our dinner (to avoid the cockroaches) though, it was business as usual for everyone else. Lamps run by generators attracted people like moths to the light and people seemed relatively calm about navigating the wild streets in the dark.

The whole street celebrates audibly when the power returns and it got me thinking about the bigger picture involved for the communities. Tirupur is the textiles capital of Tamil Nadu but suffers 2 hour cuts a day. In economic senses the shortages must transform the area into an investment minefield; why would you pay for a factory and staff that can’t always work?

In the social senses the poorest suffer. For those who can’t afford torches, generators and transportation an untimely blackout could be disastrous. The Ill, elderly, and vulnerable may not be able to complete their homework, take their medicine, or find their way home.

And environmentally there is a question. The bulging 1.2billion Indians set to become the most populous country in the world can’t continue with a power deficit. The pressure on fossil fuels has affected the world but if countries cannot maintain a reliable system now then how will they cope in ten years time when oil supplies hit peak, green pacts become serious, and millions more people sigh at their slowing ceiling fans.

Indian Jewels

I started this blog to document my work and the people I meet through it. But important to the people in India is the scenery that I see on the bus everyday and I owe a post to the sheer beauty of the things I have seen here. When nothing goes to plan, haters hate, and you feel a world away from home, its the sights that chill me out.

Tamil Nadu is an underrated destination for holiday makers but following every road we take I am a satisfied tourist. Clouds of bright terracotta dust follow every activity, and in the city every space is consumed by bustling enterprise. A patchwork of services stretch every street so that a high street seems a lost concept.

Buildings are painted in pastels and have no consideration for a neighbour’s personal space. The horns and lights of ant like traffic will never leave you and neither will spontaneous farmyard animals. Grand bulls with painted horns constantly instigate diversions with no sense of urgency. Hindu vibrancy invites you with Technicolor temples at every turn that have enlisted the streets with decorated vans and cars.

Bright saris cut through the dust as beautiful women in flowers, paint, and silk go about their every day lives with the grooming of goddesses.

And as you move west towards Kerala awe inspiring mountains crest above the coconut trees. Enchanting stone crags bend the yellow horizon into gentle waves and everything close to you pops green, bursting to steal the mountains’ attention. People and animals tend the plains like artists, a woman’s sari blazes in the breeze as she ploughs the distant soil.

As the Indian summer broke people ran through streets cradling their things and screaming laughter at the invisible sky through bulbs of rain.

Vallipattu

A temple in Channai

A particularly cute friend

Roof friends

Transportation A La India

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TRANSPORTATION A LA INDIA

Something interesting about Tamil Nadu is the infamous Indian traffic and road rogues. From our first journey to the training house – the buses – Tuk tuks I can safely say that Indian traffic is not for the faint hearted.

But there’s something kind of beautiful about it. Cattle, rickshaws, mopeds, huge vans, and people swarming about the road like there are no rules. Colours popping out of the dust, often way too close for comfort, and lanes are to be laughed at.

Horn heavy drivers substitute indicators for deafening horns and practice the art of heart stopping proximity, to the extent that a stray finger out of the window is at risk.

And what about Tamil’s drivers? Just today we saw two 14odd year old girls on a moped and our bus driver stopped on a corner to take a cigarette break. Bus drivers also stopped to pick up a cabin full of shopping whilst two parallel moped drivers took up a conversation on the highway.
Perhaps we could say this is chaos! Wrong! Dangerous?
Obviously there are huge risks, of course, but dodging bulls every few yards, avoid darting mopeds (sometimes on the wrong side of the street), and pulling out on a crossroad without being crushed… That’s skill.

I leave this post without any particular judgement. I think I’m still processing what I’ve observed.

So here are two guys on a bike who really wanted a picture taken. Happy Saturday!